Aller au contenu

Claude Bernard's non reception of Darwinism


The aim of this paper is to explain why, while Charles Darwin was well recognized as a scientific leader of his time, Claude Bernard never really regarded Darwinism as a scientific theory. The lukewarm reception of Darwin at the Academie des Sciences of Paris and his nomination to a chair only after 8 years contrasts with his prominence, and Bernard's attitude towards Darwin's theory of species evolution belongs to this French context. Yet we argue that Bernard rejects the scientific value of Darwinian principles mainly for epistemological reasons. Like Darwin, Bernard was interested in hereditary processes, and planned to conduct experiments on these processes that could lead to species transformation. But the potential creation of new forms of life would not vindicate Darwinism since biologists can only explain the origin of morphotypes and morphological laws by the means of untestable analogies. Because it can be the object neither of experiments nor of any empirical observation, phylogeny remains out of science's scope. Around 1878 Bernard foresaw a new general physiology based on the study of protoplasm, which he saw as the agent of all basic living phenomena. We will analyze why Bernard regarded Darwinism as part of metaphysics, yet still referred to Darwinians in his latter works in 1878. Basically, the absence of a scientific reception of Darwinism in Bernard's work should not obscure its philosophical reception, which highlights the main principles of Bernard's epistemology.


Bolduc, G. et Angleraux, C. (2023). Claude Bernard's non reception of darwinism. Hist Philos Life Sci, 45(3), 29.

Axe associé

Profils liés

Caroline Angleraux